The Indie Chronicles: Teaching Yourself to Make a Storyboard
a blogumn by R.B. Ripley
I have a new favorite thing… its called… a storyboard.
Once again Ripley is the last to jump on the bandwagon of a good thing. I have several writer friends who are also comic / graphic novel hounds and I’ve always admired their ability to think cinematically. Of course I knew that graphic novels are, to a good degree, inherently cinematic… but I just didn’t… understand. You know the difference between learning something by rote and actually learning something? That’s kind of where I was with comic books. I just didn’t get them.
So, about six weeks ago, I sat down with our short film project’s fabulous cinematographer and editor to talk through the script we’re going to be shooting. We quickly fell into a pattern: One of them would ask, “Why does this happen?” I would say… “Because ” and make a note in the script that something didn’t work. They would nod their heads and we’d continue. I walked away from the conversation with the clear impression I had no business directing traffic, let alone a film.
As a writer, I’ve gotten pretty good at listening to other’s thoughts about what I’ve written. It’s never… comfortable, exactly, but I know the inherent value in it. Now, wearing a director’s hat, I was out of my element (way, way out) and their questions didn’t seem like the gentle probing they assuredly were. Instead I felt like I’d been through the inquisition. So I went home and ate my bodyweight in dark chocolate.
Deep inside, I knew they had posed nothing but good, sound questions that should be answered if the film is to work. But I didn’t really know HOW to answer them since I’d recently collapsed under the weight of so much writer’s detritus. So once again, I looked for a way to answer questions and solve problems that didn’t involve writing or outlining or typing. Lying in bed I had a thought that I should draw what I see in my head, to help me find the gaps and redundancies.
Alas, I can’t draw! But I can use a camera. It’s not art, but it’s functional.
So the next day, I called our cinematographer and asked her if she’d be willing to spend time shooting a photo of every single camera setup I wanted. To my surprise, she thought it was a “brilliant” idea (what was brilliant was that I’d finally arrived where she’d been patiently waiting). So that’s exactly what we did. Spent the better part of a weekend at the locations we’d chosen, taking a still photo of each camera each set up we wanted.
The result, while not an artistic photo installation for a gallery, was nothing short of revelatory. I sat down with those still photos and was able to essentially piece together the story using images. Lo & behold, there was MUCH that didn’t need to be there. And all of the gaps, where what I’d written didn’t connect shone brighter than the sun. Based on these storyboards, I did a rewrite and was able to cut over two pages. Doesn’t sound like much, but in doing so, I reduced the script length (and budget!) by 20%. And the story’s a hell of a lot better.
Oh, and in the process, I learned I don’t know a single thing about camera lenses and what they do… But that’s for another day…
It’s hard to believe that writer’s aren’t taught to do this BEFORE they ever write a single scene. What a fantastic tool to help with a rewrite!
Juxtaposing images or, how to let the audience do the work for you.